Bennett on the Origins of The Anglosphere Challenge

Jim Bennett responds to a (positive) review of his book The Anglosphere Challenge: Why the English-Speaking Nations Will Lead the Way in the Twenty-First Century in the (very good) Australian magazine Quadrant. If you have not yet read TAC, pick it up and use it for beach reading this summer.

Bennett’s post shows the development of his thinking as he worked on the book, and how his initial idea was that technology would drive the creation of a networked world a “Network Commonwealth”. As he worked on it further, he came to see more and more the existence of an “Anglosphere” with its own distinct characteristics — and this idea came to predominate in the book and in his thinking. He notes in particular that he was well along in the writing of the book before he came across the writing of Claudio Veliz and Alan Macfarlane, who had a major impact on his thinking.

An example of Veliz’s approach is this article, entitled ” Peron, Whitlam, Argentina and Australia”, comparing the development of Australia and Argentina. Macfarlane, of course, I have mentioned frequently on the blog, e.g. here. He has devoted his professional life to the study of ” the most mysterious, yet portentous, change of the last two thousand years of human history, the origins of industrial capitalism.” This short piece entitled Some Reflections on the Origins Of Industrial Capitalism in a Comparative Perspective gives an indication of Macfarlane’s intellectual approach. A short version of Bennett’s thinking is the Anglosphere Primer, which is very good but really needs a new edition to capture the stuff he has been working on, reading, discussing and thinking about for the last several years. But it is still a good overview.

4 thoughts on “Bennett on the Origins of The Anglosphere Challenge”

  1. Quadrant struck me as a very interesting magazine. Sort of a junior City Journal. The reviewer struck me as interested in the idea but a bit skeptical. Or maybe I’m projecting my own interest and skepticism into the review.

    For example, I ask myself if the US would go to war with China in order to defend India, an Anglosphere nation. No is my immediate response. Tough luck Hadji. We’ll send weapons and wish you the best but we’re not taking on 25% of the worlds’ population for ya. Maybe you could get the Non-Aligned Nations to give ya a hand. :-P

    On the other hand, I haven’t the slightest doubt the US would go to the mat to defend the Aussies, damn the consequences. We’re simply too culturally akin and allies for too long to stand by when they’re in need. So, while I see the basic thesis, I’m skeptical about about how universally it can be applied.

    I also have my doubts about the historical model for technological leadership within the Anglosphere. Between the Renaissance and about 1940 Europe – and I include the UK here – was the undisputed champion of basic scientific research and applied technology in the world, a span of about 400 years. American universities only even reached the European standard in the 1930’s. Until then, anyone who aspired to a 1st class education went to Europe to receive it. I would even argue that it was the mass exodus of intellect from Europe from the 1930’s through the 1950’s that seeded the explosion of technological breakthroughs in the US during the mid 20th century. I include the Manhattan project in that. So, while I agree the science and technology baton has certainly passed to the US in the last 50 years, we should be careful of reading too much into that.

    I’m much more inclined to wholeheartedly agree the Anglo social model is and will remain the social model to emulate around the world. Free republics and market economies are without equal in providing the highest quality of life and standard of living for the most number of people.

  2. The degree to which India is an Anglosphere nation is an interesting question, which is both unresolved today, and rapidly changing. And that has a lot to do with how much America would risk to help India in a war against China. Several things change this equation — for example, the degree to which India gives the US visible help in the time between now and whenever the Chinese threat might break. The US would help Australia partly because the Aussies have been conspicuously there to help us every time we needed it for most of the past century. (It’s fine for Chris Patten to sneer at the Aussies for being “enthusiastic citizens of the American empire”, but the chances of Patten’s European Union being of any help whatsoever to Australia in any imaginable crisis are rougly equivalent to the chances of icicle formation in the Outback in midsummer.)

    It will also depend on the size of the continued Indian immigration to the US, and their success at assiliation and intermarriage with the general US population. If one’s co-workers and relatives by marriage are talking about what’s going to happen to their families back in India under Chinese attack, this humanizes the problem substantially.

    As for Michael’s point about Anglosphere leadership in the Industrial Revolution, it’s pretty clear that Britain, and not Europe in general, was the focal point of that revolution, and although America did not finish catching up until World War Two with its massive technology transfer problem, it was a player in that process from the 1780s onward. The lack of engineering and science university programs in the earier years (somewhat less problematic than Hiteshaw’s comments might indicate, as West Point served effectively as America’s technology school for the fist half of the 19th century) was not as important an indicator then, as much of the progress was empirical and done outside of academia. Certainly America was a co-equal player in shipbuilding, steam navigation and railway technology, and textlie manufacturing from the 1820s onward, and caught up or surpassed most other technology areas by 1880. Consider electrical equipment and telephony, which was probably the cutting-edge field in the 1880-1910 timeframe. America was co-equal with Germany and ahead of Britain and France.

    It was only in the 1880-1940 timeframe that Germany, especially, and to some extent France began to catch up with the Anglosphere, due particularly to the German innovation in linking pure science research with technological innovation and development. It took some time for America and Britian to implement that system, as you note, although considering the Anglo-American efforts in aviation, propulsion engineering, electronics and computation up to and during WWII (done primarily with non-emigre talent, unlike nuclear research), they nevera ctually fell behind in aggregate.

    And even when considering emigre talent, it must be considered that the Anglosphere has always been good about gathering in and offering refuge to the victims of various Continental enthusiasms, from the Huguenots to the Hungarians of 1956. Continental Europe’s moment in the sun of innovation was linked to the fairly short time between the emancipation of the Jews after the Napoleonic Wars, to their eradication and expulsion under Hitler. Not only nuclear scientists, but also technology entrepreneurs like Walter Rathenau (imagine Bill Gates and Alan Greenspan combined in one person…) and Marcel Dassault (nee Bloch) tended to be…well, Jewish.

    When considering the critical roles of various cultures in the scientific-industrial revolutions, it’s not just the gadget guys that count, it’s the whole social package. And not turing your best scientists into either the enemy’s weapons team, or lampshades, is part of that package.

  3. Michael:

    India is not a part of the core Anglosphere. It was and is a civilization unto itself, with a “special relationship” to the Anglosphere. See this post, “Some Thoughts on India and the Anglosphere”. Your sentiments about India and your sentiments about Australia are consistent with the analysis in that piece. I think that India and the Anglosphere will become increasingly close in the years ahead. I hope so.

    As to technological leadership, of course, the baton may pass to others. But I doubt it will happen any time soon. The incentives to corruption in scientific work are too strong in China right now, for example, for us to have anything to fear from that quarter for the foreseeable future. But, you are absolutely right that we should not be complacent in this department and there is a lot we could be doing better. Annihilating the existing K-12 government-run educational system and replacing it with a vigorous, competitive industry would have massive impact for the good. It may yet happen.

    As to the destruction of European scientific supremacy, the 19th century scientific flowering was overwhelmingly Jewish, especially in Germany, but also in France and in Russia and Austria-Hungary. The Europeans emancipated the Jews, experienced a powerful boost in all fields: science, music, art, finance, commerce, technology. Then, they killed their Jews, who were smarter than they were, spoke their languages better than they did, were more successful and were in every way their superiors due to intellect, energy and entrepreneurial spirit. The Jews whom the Europeans were unable to murder fled to the Anglosphere. Bennett has a good piece on the Judeao-Germanosphere which is worth looking at. So, I would say in response to your comment that the European experience in the 19th century was temporary, derived in large measure from Jewish emancipation, and is now permanently over since they murdered their Jews or drove them to live either in Israel or the Anglosphere, where their talents are welcome. Note also that it was precisely to the Anglosphere that the Jews of Europe fled, when they could get in. Not, usually, South America or China or Soviet Russia. Another Anglosphere strength over the centuries, is that it has been a magnet for immigrants. This is a matter of degree, but compared to its neighbors, this has usually been true. So, you are absolutely right that a large part of the Mid-20th Century American scientific and technological triumph was driven by immigrants, particularly Jews. The Germans and the millions of Europeans who openly or quietly assisted them wanted the Jews turned into road salt. The people of the Anglosphere were not always “nice” to the Jews, but they gave them pretty much the same freedom as everyone else, and that was enough.

  4. I see Mr. Bennett and I were typing at the same time. He, as usual, is less vehement than I am, and has more specific facts backing up his claims. But I think we are in general agreement.

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